It's strange, I don't feel as if I've slept for weeks. I'm not tired but I don't feel any different either.

The first time I wake, Wabisuki is sitting on my chest, poking my cheek. ::You suck. Wake up already.:: Little breasts move in a long-suffering sigh as I blink up at her. ::Hurry up and get better. You gotta practice more before I let you beat me again, mister. I just felt sorry for you.:: Her tiny nose sticks straight up in the air and I just stare up it.

::Did you know you have dark little hairs in your nose?:: I blink again. Did I just say that? Judging by her shocked look and growl of rage, I did. ::Um, sorry. Just, ah, thought you should know.::

I can't believe I said that, it's so rude and bold and, and unlike me. Wabisuki agrees. ::I hate you. I'm never letting you win again!:: And just like that, she's gone. Just as well, I don't think I ever want to win again, not if it's like that; I don't want to hurt others. My eyes slide closed again but I am glad to be here. I just hope everyone else is too.

The second time I wake up, Tetsummi is asleep beside the bed, head pillowed on a large arm against my hip. Footsteps shuffle outside my door, the quiet sounds of a hospital running smoothly and I take a moment to enjoy the peace and calm before memory slams into me.

A loud gasp and Tetsummi is sitting upright, staring at me. "Tetsummi!" Ow, ow, ow, my voice is harsh and my throat burns but I have to know. "The men, are they?"

"Easy, Lieutenant. Everyone is fine. We lost a few but you saved us. Even the Captain." His arm lifts me gently to half-sit and a glass presses to my mouth. I have to drink or drown. "Everything is taken care of. You have to rest, you've been asleep for just over two weeks."

His hands are gentle on my back, running through my hair and I lean against him, crying with relief. Soothing words and soft crooning send me back under, clinging to his shirt. Men trickle in two and three at a time to say hello, to bring me treats, books, candies, just to say thank you and let me look at them. The only one who doesn't come is Ikkaku and I wonder if he's angry.

I know he doesn't believe in interfering with a fight. He thinks that whatever happens is what happens, you lose if you're weak and win if you're strong, but I can't believe that. I can't stand by and let others die when I could help them. It's difficult to focus on the men while I'm so uncertain. Will he send me away? No, he might be angry but he will forgive me, I'm sure of it.

I shake my head and fiddle with the newly cut bangs. The edges of my hair were singed from the backlash and I had Isane trim the bangs to just below my eye and cut the back until it was close to my scalp, the way it was when I was young. It feels strange, almost as I'm just out of the academy again, as if I can smile and laugh the way I did then. I wonder if I can.

a week later

Heavy pounding on the door is giving me a headache; this is a hospital, they should be more quiet. I'm just starting to change into my own clothes, preparing to be released and Tetsummi moves to answer the door for me. "Kira Izuru! Open the door!" Loud voices are grating and I can't imagine why they haven't been sent away yet.

"Tetsummi." What is going on? Messages usually come by butterfly or a quiet delivery person. Unless... My chest clenches tightly; unless something has happened to the Captain. "Tetsummi, open the door!" I have to know.

The third and fourth seats of the First Division step through. "Come with us."

"Captain Ikkaku? Is he alright?" Their faces are blank, not a hint either way. "Tell me!"

"Come with us immediately. You are to appear before the council." The third, I wish I could remember his name, grabs my arm and starts to pull me out the door; we halt abruptly, his arm bending backwards, hand jerked away from me.

"Lieutenant, let me handle this." Tetsummi's power is pulsing around us, a fierce glare trained on the First Division men. "Lieutenant Kira outranks you. You will report to him with the proper respect!"

Anger flares in both sets of dark eyes, power growing, making the air heavy. "Tetsummi, it's fine. I'm sure they meant no disrespect. If I am called before the council, I will go of course. Please return to the barracks and take command until I or the Captain return." My hand trembles as I place it on his arm and slide it up to rest against his chest. "Thank you. Shall we?"

Whatever is happening, fighting amongst ourselves is not the answer; we've had enough of that already. Protests are waved away as I pull my jacket from its place beside the door and step out into the snow. It pleases me to see clear paths around our barracks as we pass them and I smile at the bowing cleaners. The walk is short until I step through the wide doors to the council chamber.

Captains are lined up along the walls, their Lieutenants facing them, and everyone staring at me; a quick glance around but I don't see my Captain. Pull your shoulders back, Izuru! Ikkaku would be ashamed to see you cowering before them. My head lifts and I remove my jacket to hand it off before bowing formally to the Captains. My cheeks burn from their scrutiny but I straighten and move down the corridor until I stand facing Captain Yamamoto and his Vice Captain. Another bow and I stand straight, looking them in the eye; I will not be an embarrassment to the Captain.

"Captain Yamamoto, sir, you called for me?" He's looking me over, taking in the shorter hair, the loose hospital clothes I didn't have time to change out of, the badge Tetsummi made sure I had, even in the recovery ward. He's making me nervous, the solemn glare is quite unnerving.

His voice is solemn as well, steady with the feel of age and wisdom vibrating through it. "Yes. Kira Izuru, you have been removed from the post of Vice-Captain of the Third Division. Your belongings are being moved as we speak. Remove your badge."

What? Just like that? I, why? They're sending me away? Taking me out of the Third Division? No, no, I, "No." My voice shakes, hands clenched at my sides. "No, I won't! I haven't done anything wrong!" There is only impassive silence, my breathing heavy in the quiet. "Sir, I refuse to relinquish my post."

"You dare!" His power is rising, swirling around him, through the hall and I have to fight to stand, entire body shaking; breathing is becoming difficult but I won't. I won't let them take me away, I belong in the Third. With Ikkaku. "You are a disgrace! To refuse a superior officer's command!"

I might be a disgrace but at least I'm a stubborn one. My nails break the skin of my palms, I can feel the blood running over my fingers to drip from my knuckles; I will not give in. Heavier and heavier, power presses me down until I kneel, my legs giving under the pressure, teeth gritted so tightly I can taste blood. "No!" I barely recognize my voice, stress high and breathy.

Silence and the power vanishes, leaving me gasping on the floor. I can't move, not even to unclench my teeth or fists. "Kira." I..kkaku? He's here? "Do as you are told."

"Sir?" I can't find him, only hear his voice echoing in the hall as I turn my head frantically, seeking his sturdy frame. "Why, sir? I"

"Kira." No explanation, no inflection in his voice, only a command. Too much, it's too much, not even my Captain wants me. A tear rolls down my cheek, then another until I'm crying steadily, silently. Shock is setting in but not enough to dull the ache in my chest, the stab of pain through my head.

From somewhere, the strength to move comes and I force myself to my feet, swaying slowly. My fingers are slick with blood and I fumble with the badge before dropping it to the floor; when I try to get it, Lieutenant Choujirou reaches past me and picks it up. A tiny smile flicks at me before his face becomes impassive again as he returns to Captain Yamamoto's side; why? Why is this happening to me? Haven't I paid enough dues already?

I just stand there, too exhausted to think, to care anymore. Wabisuki screams in my head, telling me to fight, to stand up for myself, but I ignore her; if not even Ikkaku wants me, there is nothing left. It's quiet, I can feel all twenty five sets of eyes on me. I don't know what to do. Should I leave? Stay? I can't even wipe the tears away, just let them fall from closed eyes.

Heavy cloth settles over my shoulders, large hands turning me to face the Captain; I can smell him, feel the warmth of his skin. "Kira, look at me." What can it hurt? It doesn't matter.

My eyes open slowly to stare into his widely smiling face. "I'm real proud of you." Why? Because I'm pathetic? Or because I haven't turned into a screaming mess yet? Just for a second, I consider doing it, to embarrass him, but I can't. My short bangs shake a bit as I look down; I still feel naked without them.

His gaze softens, the wide grin shifting into a gentler version. "Kira Izuru, I, Captain Madarame Ikkaku of the Third Division, hereby grant you Captain status." I shake my head again; he tips my chin up and nods before leaning in to kiss tears away. "For your bravery, your strength, and your loyalty to Soul Society, not only in recent months but for the past century of your service in the Gotei 13, you are named Co-Captain of the Third Division. Do you accept?"

But, but, what? I can only blink at him, dazed by his sudden proclamation. My eyes wander down to my shoulders and my hand lifts slowly to touch the bright white cloth, dark markings harsh and strange against my skin. "C,c,captain?" He just smiles and squeezes my shoulders "But, but I'm, I'm not"

A whisper across my lips. "You're perfect. Come, Kira, say yes." A soft kiss. "Say yes, Izuru."

What else can I do? "Yes." I don't understand, but he wants me to say yes, so I will. A whoop of victory and I'm flying through the air, whirled in strong arms, clinging tightly. "Sir, sir!"

"What did I say about that?" He's grinning so widely I'm surprised he hasn't split a lip open. I'm suddenly leaning over backwards, arms flung around the heavy shoulders for balance, hot lips covering mine in a scorching kiss, tongue invading my mouth and I forget about the Captains, Lieutenants, everyone and everything in my rush to kiss him back. As he pulls away, I become aware of soft clapping, the louder men cheering softly.

My face flushes crimson but Ikkaku isn't bothered, he just slings an arm around my waist and hauls me against his side. Captain Yamamoto speaks from behind me, deep voice silencing the others. "Congratulations, Captain Kira, on your promotion and your new posting as Captain of the Third Division. Lead well." The barest hint of a smile and he turns away, walking slowly to the door; Lieutenant Choujirou winks quickly and trails after him to hold the door.

Once it clicks shut, I'm lifted into the air again, Renji's voice loud in my ears, congratulating me, Yachiru clinging to my shoulders. Each Captain comes by to greet me as a new Captain and each Lieutenant salutes and grins. It's all a daze as I bow back and thank them all, leaning heavily on Ikkaku. He finally cuts them off and swings me up into his arms, cradling me against his chest. "Alright, back off. He's just out of the hospital for fuck's sake."

"Bah, you just want to take him home and get laid. Fuck off, we're celebrating." Renji's obnoxious laughter rings for a second before the room freezes over; he immediately bolts after his departing Captain, apologizing, leaving the rest of us snickering behind him.

"Loser. Come on, Kira, you need to rest." And off we go, my protests ignored as we stomp through the snow, little flurries kicked up with each step. The door opens as we approach and salutes are snapped off as we step through; the entire division is here to welcome me home.

"Sir! We've already moved your things for you. I unpacked most of it. I hope you will be pleased!" Tetsummi, reliable Tetsummi.

I smile at him and he smiles back, pleased and proud. "Thank you, Tetsummi." An automatic reaction before I'm carried further inside. Wait, my things? Unpacked? I try to turn back but the Captain just pulls my head down to his shoulder.

"Shh, be patient." I quiet and rest, arms around his neck. "Here we are." An unfamiliar door a few steps down the hall from the Captain's room opens with a nudge of a bare foot and I blink at the airy room; big windows let the evening light in to cast shadows over a large bed, a small desk that I recognize as mine, and a few dressers.

"Sir?" A quick shake nearly makes me bite my tongue and I blush. "Ikkaku, what is this?" I'm certain this wasn't here when we left last time.

"This is your new room. I had Tetsummi bring everything here and put it where it belongs." He's beaming down at me. "My room is just through that door." I finally notice it, tucked over near the desk, and blush even more.

I'm set gently down on the bed and continue staring around the room. "But, where did it come from?" I was only gone for three weeks.

"I had them start as soon as we got back, so it would be ready for you to spend your first night as Captain in your own room."

I just gawk at him, mouth opening and closing silently. "You, knew? Since when?"

Pink tiptoes across his cheeks and I try not to laugh. "I put your name forward as soon as I knew you would make it. Just found out this morning."

"That was mean, to scare me like that." My gaze turns to the floor; even thinking about it makes my chest hurt. "I don't deserve to be Captain, I can't even do Bankai."

Thick arms wrap around me quickly, hugging tightly as he sinks down beside me on the bed. "It doesn't matter if you never perform it again. We voted." He grins suddenly and drops a kiss on my nose. "It was unanimous you know. Even Yamamoto voted to have you be Co-Captain until a post opens for you to take over, if you want." His thumb runs over my cheek. "I know it was hard on you. I didn't want to but old man Yama insisted. And you did really good, standing up to him like that. We were all proud."

I'm so happy to hear that he was proud of me that tears start again. I just can't seem to stop today. "I thought you didn't want me anymore, that you were sending me away." I was so worried that he didn't like me anymore, that I was a nuisance; that I really am useless.

A heavy sigh and he pulls me to my feet, big hands closed gently around my wrists before brushing tears away. "Aw, Kira, as if I could do that." A step is taken away from me and he runs a palm over the smooth head, dull red moving over his cheeks. "Fuck. Guess I should have done this a while ago."

A tiny frown creases my forehead; what is he talking about? Houzukimaru is drawn with a slick of metal and the point stabbed into the floor. Ikkaku kneels on one knee, one hand curled around the handle of his sword. "Now listen carefully, I'm only saying this once." I nod quickly, watching curiously. "I swear my sword, soul, and body to follow you, protect you, and stand beside you forever."

"But, but you can't!" My hair shakes quickly, I wish I had my bangs to hide behind. He can't follow me, I can't lead! "No, Ikkaku, get up."

A hard hand grabs mine as I reach forward to make him stand, harder eyes staring up. "You little idiot. I've been yours since I first saw you. I'll always be here with you. Even if I die, I'll find you again." A soft kiss to my knuckles. "Say you love me and want me to stay."

My lips part in a smile, slow tears on my cheeks. What can I do? I have to obey my Captain. "I love you, Madarame Ikkaku, and would be honored if you would stay beside me forever."

We're falling, tumbling backwards somehow; he's gone from kneeling before me to leaning over me, fluttery kisses covering my face. "Love you, you know. My pretty, tough little Kira." I laugh into his mouth, taking kiss after kiss.

It's true. A thousand is never enough.